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(en) [AFIB] Yesterday & Today: The CIA, Drugs and Death Squads

From Tom Burghardt <tburghardt@igc.apc.org>
Date Wed, 12 Aug 1998 10:37:55 -0700 (PDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

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|| * --  SPECIAL  --  *  August 12, 1998  * --  EDITION  -- * ||
                       * SPECIAL EDITION *
                              * * *
                      `Yesterday and Today'
     1. (TC)     THE CONSORTIUM: John Hull's Great Escape
     2. (SFE)    SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: CIA Intercession in S.F.
     3. (PROG)   THE PROGRESSIVE: Still Seeing Red - The CIA
                 Fosters Death Squads in Colombia
     4. (WP)     WASHINGTON POST: Colombian Army's Third in
                 Command Allegedly Led Two Lives
                              * * *
     AFIB EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION: While the Justice Department and
     "mainstream" media continue to disparage the irrefutable
     evidence of CIA links to narco-traffickers and paramilitary
     death squads, the people of Colombia -- like their
     counterparts throughout Central America during the 1980s --
     continue to pay a steep price for US political-economic
     domination. Yet despite official denials, the military-
     paramilitary axis is a cornerstone of US counterinsurgency
     strategies employed since the dawn of the Cold War. From
     "stay behind" anticommunist networks deployed in Europe
     after 1945 -- terrorist webs that relied on an unsavory
     alliance among CIA-NATO forces, reconstituted fascist and
     neo-nazi organizations and international drug cartels -- to
     Turkey's "contra-guerrilla" nets and the infamous Self-
     Defense Groups of Colombia (Autodefensas de Colombia - ACU)
     today, US strategy has little to do with waging a "war
     against drugs" and much to do with advancing Washington's
     geopolitical goals. The reports below provide a snapshot of
     how this strategy plays out, a glimpse into the machinations
     of corporate-military power. Unfortunately, Gary Webb's CIA-
     Contra-Cocaine story is being "advanced" on Colombia's
     killing fields.
                              * * *
                       * THE CONSORTIUM *
                   For Independent Journalism
               Web: http://www.consortiumnews.com/
                       Tel: (703) 920-1580
                  E-mail: rparry@ix.netcom.com
        - Volume 3, No. 16 (Issue 68) - August 10, 1998 -
                    JOHN HULL'S GREAT ESCAPE
                         By Robert Parry
                              * * *
     John Hull, the American farmer in Costa Rica whose land
became a base for contra raids into Nicaragua, averted
prosecution for alleged drug trafficking by fleeing Costa Rica in
1989 with the help of U.S. government operatives.
     A report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael
Bromwich disclosed new evidence about Hull's escape from Costa
Rica in a plane flown by a pilot who worked for the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration. The report, however, could not
reconcile conflicting accounts about the direct involvement of a
DEA officer and concluded, improbably, with a finding of no
     The finding makes Bromwich's report the latest chapter in a
long saga of U.S. government protection of Hull, a fervent anti-
communist who became a favorite of the Reagan-Bush
     For years, however, contra-connected witnesses also cited
Hull's ranch as a cocaine transshipment point for drugs heading
to the United States. According to Bromwich's report, the DEA
even prepared a research report on the evidence in November 1986.
     In it, one informant described Colombian cocaine off-loaded
at an airstrip on Hull's ranch. The drugs were then concealed in
a shipment of frozen shrimp and transported to the United States.
The alleged Costa Rican shipper was Frigorificos de Puntarenas, a
firm controlled by Cuban-American Luis Rodriguez.
     Like Hull, however, Frigorificos had friends in high places.
In 1985-86, the State Department had selected the shrimp company
to handle $261,937 in non-lethal assistance earmarked for the
     In 1987, the DEA in Miami opened a file on Rodriguez, but
soon concluded there was no case. Still, as more evidence
surfaced in 1987, the FBI and Customs indicted Rodriguez for drug
trafficking and money-laundering.
     But Hull remained untouchable, although five witnesses
implicated him during Sen. John Kerry's investigation of contra
drug trafficking. The drug suspicions just glanced off the
pugnacious farmer, who had cultivated close relationships with
the U.S. Embassy and conservative Costa Rican politicians.
     In January 1989, however, Costa Rican authorities finally
acted. They indicted Hull for drug trafficking, arms smuggling
and other crimes. Hull was jailed, a move that outraged some U.S.
congressmen. A letter, signed by senior Democrat Rep. Lee
Hamilton and others, threatened to cut off U.S. economic aid if
Hull were not released.
     Costa Rica complied, freeing Hull pending trial. But Hull
didn't wait for his day in court. In July 1989, he hopped a
plane, flew to Haiti and then to the United States.
     Hull got another break when one of his conservative friends,
Roberto Calderon, won the Costa Rican presidency. On Oct. 10,
1990, Calderon informed the U.S. embassy that he could not stop
an extradition request for Hull's return but signaled that he did
not want to prosecute his pal.
The embassy officials received the message. A cable noted that
the new president was "clearly hoping that Hull will not be
extradited." The Bush administration fulfilled Calderon's hope by
rebuffing Costa Rican extradition requests, effectively killing
the case against Hull.
     While not objecting to that maneuvering, Bromwich's report
revealed that behind the scenes, another drama was playing out:
an internal investigation into whether DEA personnel had
conspired to thwart Hull's drug prosecution.
     That phase of the story began on May 17, 1991, when a Costa
Rican journalist told a DEA official in Costa Rica that Hull was
boasting that a DEA special agent had assisted in the 1989 flight
to Haiti. DEA launched an internal inquiry, headed by senior
inspector Anthony Ricevuto.
     The suspected DEA agent, whose name was withheld in
Bromwich's report, admitted knowing Hull but denied helping him
escape. Ricevuto learned, however, that one of the agent's
informants, a pilot named Harold Wires, had flown the plane
carrying Hull.
     When interviewed on July 23, 1991, Wires said the DEA agent
had paid him between $500 and $700 to fly Hull to Haiti aboard a
Cessna. In Haiti, Wires said, they met another DEA pilot Jorge
Melendez and Ron Lippert, a friend of the agent. Melendez
accompanied Wires back to Costa Rica, and Lippert flew with Hull
to the United States.
     From DEA records, Ricevuto confirmed that Melendez had been
a DEA informant and freelance pilot. But when questioned,
Melendez denied seeing Hull in Haiti. Then, 20 days later,
Ricevuto got a call from Wires who reversed his initial story.
Wires suddenly was claiming that the DEA agent did not know that
Hull was on the Cessna.
     Later, Wires amended the story again, saying that the agent
gave him $700 to pay for the Cessna's fuel but only for the
return flight. Wires also claimed it was the agent's friend,
Lippert, who asked Wires to fly Hull out of Costa Rica, not the
agent. Wires added that he took the assignment because he felt
the CIA had abandoned Hull. Yet, Wires also acknowledged that he
had received an angry call from Hull who wanted to clear the
agent of suspicion.
     Though Hull's overheard comments about the DEA agent's role
had started the investigation, Hull weighed in on Oct. 7, 1991,
with a letter. "I have no idea if [the accused agent] knew how
and when I was leaving Costa Rica," Hull wrote. He then added,
cryptically, "I assumed the ambassador was fully aware of my
     For his part, Lippert told Ricevuto that the DEA agent
indeed had helped plan Hull's escape. But a DEA polygrapher was
brought in to test Lippert and judge him "deceptive." No
polygraphs apparently were ever administered to Wires, Hull or
the DEA agent.
     So, despite the evidence that DEA personnel conspired in the
flight of an accused drug trafficker, the DEA cleared the agent
of any wrongdoing. Bromwich endorsed that finding as
     Copyright (c) 1998
                              * * *
     NEWSLETTER FORMAT: 1 year - (26 issues) $39; 6 months (13
     issues) - $24.
     iF MAGAZINE: a bi-monthly publication featuring the best
     stories from The Consortiun (six issues) for $25 a year; 2
     years - $48. (A two-year sub comes with a FREE copy of
     Robert Parry's Trick or Treason: The October Surprise
     Mystery, normally a $24.95 value.) Subscriptions can be
     placed with Visa/Mastercard by calling 1-800-738-1812 or
     703-920-1802 or by e-mailing the data. Or by checks sent to
     The Media Consortium. (Non-U.S. subs add $15).
                      THE MEDIA CONSORTIUM
                         Suite 102-231
                        2200 Wilson Blvd.
                       Arlington, VA 22201
     Monday, August 10, 1998, Page A-1
     By Seth Rosenfeld
     On a hot August day in 1984, a lawyer from CIA headquarters
walked into the office of a federal prosecutor in San Francisco
to ask for a favor.
     The CIA man was reluctant to give his name or his government
affiliation, the assistant U.S. attorney recalled, and embarked
on an "opaque conversation" about what he called an
"uncomfortable situation":
     Drug agents had seized $36,020 from a defendant in the West
Coast's biggest cocaine bust. The defendant claimed the cash was
not drug profits but money belonging to U.S.-backed contra rebels
fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
     The defendant's lawyers were set to go to Costa Rica to
question two contra leaders about the money. The CIA feared this
might cause unwanted publicity and "potential . . . disaster" for
the agency's contra operations, the laconic CIA lawyer, Lee
Strickland, said in a subsequent cable.
     The Reagan administration's contra program already was under
fire in Congress, which had threatened to cut CIA funding for it.
     "While the allegations might be entirely false, there are
sufficient factual details which could cause certain damage to
our image and program in Central America," Strickland's cable
     At the prosecutor's office in the Federal Building at 450
Golden Gate Ave., Strickland stressed that the agency would be
"immensely grateful" if the money were returned to the drug
dealer, eliminating any reason for the defense lawyer's
potentially troublesome questions in Costa Rica.
     Although the U.S. attorney's office aggressively confiscates
suspected drug funds, it decided within a week to return the
money. "The United States attorney was most deferential to our
interests," Strickland said in another cable.
     The CIA's discreet visit was described in a report last
month from the Department of Justice's office of inspector
general, which examined allegations that department officials
protected drug dealers because of ties to the contras or pressure
from the CIA.
     The 407-page report by Inspector General Michael R. Bromwich
sheds new light on the controversial refund, saying it resulted
partly from the CIA's "desire to protect the public image of the
contras or the CIA" and thus raised a question of "propriety."
     The study confirms that the Justice Department and the CIA
withheld information about the case from a late 1980s U.S. Senate
inquiry, a former Senate investigator said.
     The CIA cables cited in the report also conflict with
statements by then-U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who has
maintained that the money was returned solely to avoid a costly
legal fight over it.
     The report affords a rare -- if not entirely clear -- view
of secret CIA operations. And it poses a troubling question that
may arise when intelligence agencies intercede in prosecutions:
Are they protecting true national-security interests, or avoiding
public accountability?
     Although a few significant California drug dealers appeared
to provide modest sums to the contras, the report said, none got
special treatment because of political activities. Allegations
that their trafficking was linked to the CIA were "not supported
by the facts," it said.
     And neither the CIA nor any other national security arm
reached out to prosecutors on behalf of the dealers -- except in
the San Francisco case, an instance the study called troubling.
     Noting that the reason for the refund remains murky, the
report expressed concern that the CIA "considered the potential
press coverage of a contra-drug link to be sufficient reason to
attempt to influence the decision to return the money."
     CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher declined to discuss the
propriety of the agency's action. The CIA intervened not to help
the defendant, she said, but because the CIA mistakenly believed
one of the contra leaders to be questioned in Costa Rica had
worked with the agency.
     The CIA stepped in after federal agents seized 430 pounds of
cocaine as divers unloaded it from a Colombian freighter on Jan.
17, 1983, at Pier 96 in San Francisco, in what became known as
the "Frogman case."
     Among some 50 people ultimately convicted was a Nicaraguan
named Julio Zavala. When drug agents raided his South San
Francisco home, they confiscated cocaine, two weapons and
     Judd Iversen, Zavala's lawyer, filed a motion seeking court
permission to take depositions in Costa Rica that, he said, would
prove the money belonged to a contra group and that U.S. agents
sanctioned, or were involved in, selling cocaine to fund the
     The late U.S. District Judge Robert F. Peckham ruled there
was no basis for allowing depositions about a CIA role in drug
smuggling. But he said Iversen could depose two contra leaders in
Costa Rica about the source of the money.
     But by Aug. 14, 1984, prosecutors had opted to return the
money to Zavala and the depositions were canceled.
     The government never conceded it was contra money. And
Zavala, an alleged leader of the drug ring, was convicted in 1985
on six felony charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
     A 1986 Examiner report on the refund sparked inquiries by
Congress and the State Department.
     As noted in the inspector general's report, then-U.S.
Attorney Russoniello sent a letter to The Examiner's editor
expressing outrage at the suggestion that his office returned the
money for political reasons or tried to cover up a link between
contras and drug traffickers. Zavala was prosecuted fully, he
     The letter, which he distributed to the media and Congress,
also said the refund "had nothing to do with any claim that the
funds came from the contras or belonged to the contras. It had to
do with the fact that it would have cost the taxpayers . . . at
least that much to fund the excursion to Costa Rica."
     But CIA cables and officials give a different account:
     In late July 1984, the CIA's Costa Rica station sent a cable
to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., reporting -- in what the
agency later called a case of mistaken identity -- that one of
the contra leaders to be deposed was a former CIA "asset," a
person who had worked for the CIA.
     "Station is concerned that this kind of uncoordinated
activity" -- the depositions -- "could have serious implications
for anti-Sandinista activities in Costa Rica and elsewhere," the
cable said.
     As a result, on Aug. 7, 1984, CIA lawyer Strickland visited
the prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Zanides,
about the "uncomfortable situation," the report said.
     An Aug. 24, 1984, cable explained that the agency made this
"discreet approach" to "ascertain details of the subject
prosecution and to avoid inquiry into activities or other (CIA)
     The cable said "it was agreed by all that any litigation
concerning the currency seizure would be fruitless. In essence,
the United States Attorney could never disprove the defendant's
allegation that (this) was (CIA) money . . . Accordingly, at (the
CIA's) request, the U.S. Attorney has agreed to return the money
to Zavala . . ."
     It added:
     "We can only guess as to what other testimony may have been
forthcoming. . . . (the CIA) will continue to monitor the
prosecution closely so that any further disclosures or
allegations by defendant or his confidants can be deflected. . .
the United States Attorney was most deferential to our interests
. . . "
     A CIA official -- identified in the report only by the alias
of Ms. Jones -- told the inspector that the burning issue in the
Frogman case was the potential claim that a CIA asset was
diverting agency funds to the drug trade and the risk of bad
     The claim would be explosive, she said. "What would make
better headlines?"
     When the inspector inquired if it was unusual for the CIA to
ask prosecutors for a favor, Jones said all intelligence agencies
routinely encounter problems in protecting their assets. She said
her office -- the CIA's policy coordination staff -- focused on
protecting CIA interests implicated in court cases, which
involved contacting prosecutors.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Zanides said he reported his contact
with the CIA to Russoniello, who later ordered him to cancel the
depositions because of their cost, the report said. Zanides said
he wasn't concerned about refunding the money because it didn't
jeopardize the prosecution, it said.
     The study concluded, "Zanides likely passed on this
information, as it is unlikely that a line assistant would not
notify his superiors of contact by an attorney from the CIA."
     The CIA also contacted two of Zanides' superiors, a CIA
cable said, but both told the inspector they did not recall that.
One of them added that the agency's approach at the very least
would have been reported to Russoniello.
     But Russoniello told the inspector the CIA never contacted
him, and that he knew nothing about it contacting anyone in his
office, according to the report. He said he didn't recall the
considerations behind the final decision to return the money,
only that he decided it was not cost effective to go to Costa
Rica, the report said.
     Russoniello told The Examiner, "I didn't know that they (the
CIA) had an interest." Zanides declined to comment.
     The CIA cables also conflict with the Justice Department's
denial in the late 1980s that any intelligence agency had
interceded in cases involving allegations of contras and drugs,
said Jack Blum, who investigated the cases as special counsel to
the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on terrorism, narcotics
and international operations.
     Justice Department spokesman Will Mancino declined to
comment on the earlier denials.
     The CIA withheld documents on the Frogman case from the
subcommittee, a report by the CIA acknowledged in January.
     The agency's efforts to have the cash returned "did not
appear to be intended to influence the outcome of Zavala's
trial," that report said, but to protect its contra operations.
     The CIA cables, it added, exaggerated the agency's influence
on the decision to refund the money.
     CIA spokeswoman Guilsher said the agency does not often
intercede in criminal cases.
     Such cases may pit protection of national-security
operations against prosecution of criminal suspects, said G.
Robert Blakey, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame in
Indiana and former chief counsel to the House Select Committee on
     In the Frogman case, Inspector General Bromwich concluded
that drug dealer Zavala or his friends "fabricated the claim that
the seized money belonged to the contras . . . to salvage some of
his drug profits."
     But Bromwich called on the public, Congress and the CIA's
inspector general to "assess the propriety of (the CIA's)
intervening in this law-enforcement matter based, at least
partly, on a desire to protect the public image of the Contras or
the CIA." The inspector general's report was prompted by 1996
articles in the San Jose Mercury News suggesting that CIA
complicity in contra drug trafficking largely was responsible for
the crack cocaine epidemic. The report found the paper's main
allegations were not substantiated.
     Copyright 1998 San Francisco Examiner
                       * THE PROGRESSIVE *
                         - June 1998 -
                          By Frank Smyth
                              * * *
     Back in 1989, the CIA built its first counter-narcotics
center in the basement of its Directorate of Operations
headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Since then, the newly renamed
"crime and narcotics center" has increased four-fold, says CIA
spokeswoman Anya Guilsher. She says she cannot comment about any
specific counter-drug operations, except to say that the agency
is now conducting them worldwide.
     The CIA was established in 1947 as a frontline institution
against the Soviet Union. Today, nine years after the Berlin Wall
fell, the agency is seeking a new purpose to justify its $26.7
billion annual subsidy. Besides the crime and narcotics center,
the CIA now runs a counter-terrorism center, a center to stymie
the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and even an
ecology center to monitor global warming and weather patterns,
including El Nino.
     George J. Tenet, the Clinton Administration's new Director
of Central Intelligence, recently told Congress the United States
faces new threats in "this post-Cold War world" that are
"uniquely challenging for U.S. interests."
     But the CIA remains a Cold War institution. Many officers,
especially within the clandestine operations wing, still see
communists behind every door. They maintain warm relationships
with rightist military forces worldwide that are engaging in
widespread human-rights abuses. These ties conflict with the
agency's putative goal of fighting drugs, since many of the
rightist allies are themselves involved in the drug trade.
     Take Colombia. In the name of fighting drugs, the CIA
financed new military intelligence networks there in 1991. But
the new networks did little to stop drug traffickers. Instead,
they incorporated illegal paramilitary groups into their ranks
and fostered death squads. These death squads killed trade
unionists, peasant leaders, human-rights, journalists, and other
suspected "subversives." The evidence, including secret Colombian
military documents, suggests that the CIA may be more interested
in fighting a leftist resistance movement than in combating
     Thousands of people have been killed by the death squads,
and the killings go on. In April, one of Colombia's foremost
human rights lawyers, Eduardo Umana Mendoza, was murdered in his
office. Umana's clients included leaders of Colombia's state oil
workers' union. Reuters estimated that 10,000 people attended his
funeral in Bogota.
     Human rights groups suspect that Umana's murder may have
been carried out by members of the security forces supporting or
operating in unison with paramilitary forces. At the funeral,
Daniel Garcia Pena, a Colombian government official who was a
friend of Umana's, told journalists that before his death Umana
had alerted authorities that state security officials along with
security officers from the state oil company were planning to
kill him.
     The killings are mounting at a terrible pace. In February, a
death squad mowed down another leading human rights activist,
Jesus Maria Valle Jaramillo. He had pointed a finger at the
military and some politicians for sponsoring death squads.
     "There is a clear, coordinated strategy of targeting anyone
involved in the defense of human rights," says Carlos Salinas of
Amnesty International. "Every statement of unconditional support
by U.S. lawmakers only encourages these kinds of attacks."
     A new debate is taking place today between human rights
groups and the Clinton Administration over U.S. aid to Colombia.
The Clinton Administration has escalated military aid to Colombia
to a record $136 million annually, making Colombia the leading
recipient of U.S. military aid in this hemisphere. Now the
Administration is considering even more, including helicopter
     Colombia did not figure prominently on the world stage back
in late 1990 and early 1991. Germany was in the process of
reunification, Iraq's Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and
El Salvador was negotiating an end to its long civil war. But the
Bush Administration was not ignoring Colombia. It was increasing
the number of U.S. Army Special Forces (or Green Beret) advisers
there. And the CIA was increasing the number of agents in its
station in Bogota -- which soon became the biggest station in
Latin America.
     "There was a very big debate going on [over how to allocate]
money for counter-narcotics operations in Colombia," says retired
Colonel James S. Roach Jr., the U.S. military attache and the
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) country liaison in Bogota in
the early 1990s. "The U.S. was looking for a way to try to help.
But if you're not going to be combatants [yourselves], you have
to find something to do."
     The United States formed an inter-agency commission to study
Colombia's military intelligence system. The team included
representatives of the U.S. embassy's Military Advisory Group in
Bogota, the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, the DIA, and the
CIA, says Roach, who was among the military officers representing
the DIA. The commission, according to a 1996 letter from the
Defense Department to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of
Vermont, recommended changes in Colombia's military intelligence
networks to make them "more efficient and effective."
     In May 1991, Colombia completely reorganized its military
intelligence networks "based on the recommendations made by the
commission of U.S. military advisers," according to the secret
Colombian reorganization order, which Human Rights Watch made
public in 1996. The U.S. commission of advisers backed the
reorganization plan ostensibly as part of the drug war. Yet the
secret Colombian order itself made no mention anywhere in its
sixteen pages or corresponding appendices about gathering
intelligence against drug traffickers. Instead, the order
instructed the new intelligence networks to focus on leftist
guerrillas or "the armed subversion."
     The forty-one new intelligence networks created by the order
directed their energies toward unarmed civilians suspected of
supporting the guerrillas. One of these intelligence networks, in
the oil refinery town of Barrancabermeja in Colombia's strife-
torn Magdalena Valley, assassinated at least fifty-seven
civilians in the first two years of operation. Victims included
the president, vice president, and treasurer of the local
transportation workers union, two leaders of the local oil
workers union, one leader of a local peasant workers union, two
human rights monitors, and one journalist.
     Colonel Roach says the Defense Department never intended the
intelligence networks to foster death squads. But Roach says he
can't speak for the CIA, which was more involved in the
intelligence reorganization and even financed the new networks
     "The CIA set up the clandestine nets on their own," says
Roach. "They had a lot of money. It was kind of like Santa Claus
had arrived."
     The secret Colombian order instructed the military to
maintain plausible deniability from the networks and their
crimes. Retired military officers and other civilians were to act
as clandestine liaisons between the networks and the military
commanders. All open communications "must be avoided." There
"must be no written contracts with informants or civilian members
of the network; everything must be agreed to orally." And the
entire chain of command "will be covert and compartmentalized,
allowing for the necessary flexibility to cover targets of
     Facts about the new intelligence networks became known only
after four former agents in Barrancabermeja began testifying in
1993 about the intelligence network there. What compelled them to
come forward? Each said the military was actively trying to kill
them in order to cover up the network and its crimes. By then the
military had "disappeared" four other ex-agents in an attempt to
keep the network and its operations secret.
     Since the military was already trying to kill them, the
agents decided that testifying about the network and its crimes
might help keep them alive. Saulo Segura was one ex-agent who
took this gamble. But rather than prosecuting his superiors over
his and others' testimony, Colombia's judicial system charged and
imprisoned Segura. In a 1996 interview in La Modelo, Bogota's
maximum-security jail, Segura told me he hadn't killed anyone and
that his job within the network was limited to renting office
space and handling money. Segura then glanced about nervously
before adding, "I hope they don't kill me."
     Two months later, on Christmas Eve, Segura was murdered
inside his cellblock. His murder remains unsolved; the
whereabouts of the other three ex-agents is unknown. No Colombian
officers have been prosecuted for ordering the Barrancabermeja
     In 1994, Amnesty International accused the Pentagon of
allowing anti-drug aid to be diverted to counterinsurgency
operations that lead to human rights abuses. U.S. officials
including General Barry R. McCaffrey, the Clinton Administration
drug czar who was then in charge of the U.S. Southern Command,
publicly denied it. But back at the office, McCaffrey ordered an
internal audit. It found that thirteen out of fourteen Colombian
army units that Amnesty had specifically cited for abuses had
previously received either U.S. training or arms. Amnesty made
these documents public in 1996. (Full disclosure: I provided the
internal U.S. documents to Amnesty; Winifred Tate and I provided
the secret Colombian order to Human Rights Watch.)
     Colombian military officers, along with some of their
supporters in the United States, say the line between
counterinsurgency and counter-drug operations in Colombia is
blurry, as Colombia's leftist guerrillas are more involved today
than ever before in drug trafficking.
     Indeed, they are. For years, about two-thirds of the forces
of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and about
half the forces of the National Liberation Army (ELN) have been
involved in the drug trade, mainly protecting drug crops,
according to both U.S. intelligence and leftist sources.
     Colombia's rightist paramilitary groups, however, are even
more involved in the drug trade, and they have been for a decade.
Back in 1989, Colombia's civilian government outlawed all
paramilitary organizations after a government investigation had
found that the Medellin drug cartel led by the late Pablo Escobar
had taken over the largest ones.
     At the time, Escobar and his associates were fiercely
resisting U.S. pressure on the Colombian government to make them
stand trial in the United States on trafficking charges. They
took control of Colombia's strongest paramilitaries and used them
to wage a terrorist campaign against the state. These same
paramilitaries, based in the Magdalena Valley, were behind a wave
of violent crimes, including the 1989 bombing of Avianca flight
HK-1803, which killed 111 passengers. Investigators concluded
that Israeli, British, and other mercenaries, led by Israeli
Reserve Army Lieutenant Colonel Yair Klein, had trained the
perpetrators in such techniques. In February, Klein and three
other former Israeli reserve officers, along with two Colombians,
were indicted in absentia for their alleged involvement in these
     The CIA bears some responsibility for the proliferation of
drug trafficking in the Magdalena Valley since it supported
rightist counterinsurgency forces who run drugs. But the CIA has
also helped combat drug trafficking in Colombia. In other words,
different units within the agency have pursued contrary goals.
     The CIA's most notable success in the drug war was the
1995-1996 operations that, with the help of the DEA, apprehended
all top seven leaders of Colombia's Cali drug cartel. One of
those apprehended was Henry Loaiza, also known as "The Scorpion,"
a top Colombian paramilitary leader. He secretly collaborated
with the CIA-backed intelligence networks to carry out
assassinations against suspected leftists.
     A young, techno-minded CIA team led the Cali bust. Heading
up the team was a woman. "I'm just a secretary," she protested
when I called her on the phone at the time.
     But despite her denials, she was not unappreciated. On
September 19, 1995, a courier delivered a white box to her at the
U.S. Embassy in Bogota. I happened to be in the lobby at the
time. She opened the box to find roses inside. They had been sent
by the head of Colombia's National Police, General Rosso Jose
     Most other agency counter-drug operations, however, have
yielded few breakthroughs.
     The net result of CIA involvement in Colombia has not been
to slow down the drug trade. Mainly, the agency has fueled a
civil war that has taken an appalling toll on civilians.
     Colombia is not the only place where these two elements of
the CIA nave clashed with each other.
     In Peru, the CIA coordinates all of its counter-drug efforts
through the office of the powerful intelligence chief, Vladimiro
Montesinos -- even though DEA special agents have produced no
fewer than forty-nine different intelligence reports about
Montesinos and his suspected narcotics smuggling. It is no wonder
that agency counter-drug efforts in Peru have failed.
     In Guatemala, the agency has played a strong role in both
counterinsurgency and counter-drug operations. As in Peru, the
agency has worked with Guatemala's office of military
intelligence, even though DEA special agents have formally
accused a whopping thirty-one Guatemalan military officers of
drug trafficking. Despite the CIA's efforts, not even one
suspected officer has been tried.
     The Clinton Administration finally cut off CIA
counterinsurgency aid to Guatemala in 1995 after revelations that
an agency asset, Guatemalan Army Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez,
had been involved in the murder of Michael DeVine, a U.S.
innkeeper, as well as in the murder of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a
leftist guerrilla who was married to the Harvard-educated lawyer,
Jennifer Harbury. But the Clinton Administration has allowed the
CIA to continue providing counter-drug aid to Guatemala.
     Most of the major drug syndicates so far uncovered by the
DEA have enjoyed direct links to Guatemalan military officers.
One of the largest syndicates, exposed in 1996, "reached many
parts of the military," according to the State Department.
     This year, the State Department reports, "Guatemala is the
preferred location in Central America for storage and
transshipment of South American cocaine destined for the United
States via Mexico."
     Mexico is the next stop on the CIA counter-narcotics train.
The fact that Mexico's former top counter-drug officer, General
Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, was himself recently indicted for drug
trafficking, raises the same old question: What is U.S. policy
really all about? Before Gutierrez was busted, the DEA thought he
was dirty, while U.S. officials, like General McCaffrey, still
sporting Cold War lenses, thought he was clean and vouched for
him shortly before his indictment.
     Some DEA special agents question the CIA's priorities in
counter-drug programs. Human-rights groups remain suspicious of
the same programs for different reasons.
     "There is no magic line dividing counter-narcotics and
counter-insurgency operations," says Salinas of Amnesty
International. "Given the current deterioration of human rights
in Mexico," an expanded role in counter-drug operations by the
United States "could lead to a green light for further
     Testifying before Congress in March, the CIA Inspector
General, Frederick R. Hitz, finally addressed allegations that
the CIA once backed Cold War allies like the Nicaraguan contras
even though they ran drugs. Hitz admitted that, at the very
least, there have been "instances where CIA did not, in an
expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with
individuals supporting the contra program who were alleged to
have engaged in drug trafficking activity, or take action to
resolve the allegations."
     What CIA officials have yet to admit is that the agency is
still doing the same thing today.
     Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist, has written a out the
     or drug trafficking in The Village Voice, The New Republic,
     The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Jane's
     Intelligence Review. He has also contributed to "Crime in
     Uniform: Corruption and Impunity in Latin America,"
     published jointly by the Cochabomba-based Accion Andina and
     the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.
     Copyright 1998 Progressive Inc.
     Source: Colombian Labor Monitor, clm@prairienet.org;
     General Reportedly Served as a Key CIA Informant While
     Maintaining Ties to Death Squads Financed by Drug
     Tuesday, August 11, 1998; Page A14
     By Douglas Farah and Laura Brooks
     Washington Post Foreign Service
     For years Colombian Gen. Ivan Ramirez Quintero was a key
intelligence source for the United States. After training in
Washington he was the first head of a military intelligence
organization designed by U.S. experts to fight Marxist guerrillas
and drug traffickers, and served as a liaison and paid informant
for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to U.S. and
Colombian intelligence sources.
     But during many of the years he was funneling information to
the CIA, according to U.S. and Colombian intelligence officials,
Ramirez, now the army's third in command, maintained close ties
to right-wing paramilitary groups who finance much of their
activities through drug trafficking.
     "We began to hear of Ramirez's ties to drug trafficking,
paramilitary activities and human rights violations in the
mid-1990s," said a knowledgeable U.S. official. "That was
reported back to the appropriate consumers. The [CIA] severed
contact with him because of that in 1995."
     In May the United States took the unusual step of revoking
Ramirez's U.S. visa because of alleged "terrorist" activities.
Ramirez, according to knowledgeable sources, is also under
investigation by the Colombian prosecutor general's office for
ties to paramilitary violence.
     In a move welcomed by U.S. officials, Colombian President
Andres Pastrana on Sunday -- two days after taking office --
dismissed the entire military high command, in part because the
military has suffered a string of humiliating defeats by Marxist
guerrillas. Ramirez, while not in the high command, will be
retired soon because of his strong ties to Colombia's outgoing
military leadership and strong U.S. pressure, sources in
Washington and Bogota said.
     A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the Ramirez case.
     Ramirez's story underscores the dilemma the United States
faces in working with the Colombian military, which is under
siege by well-funded and well-trained Marxist guerrillas. The
guerrillas of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC)
and the National Liberation Army (ELN) now number about 20,000
and control almost half the national territory. The rapid
expansion of the guerrillas in recent years is due in large part
to growing profits from protecting and aiding drug traffickers
who operate in areas they control.
     While many U.S. policymakers are anxious to step up aid to
the military and say the line between the guerrillas and drug
trafficking is blurred, there is little stomach in Washington for
helping a military with an abysmal human rights record and whose
senior leaders are suspected of ties to paramilitary groups and,
at least indirectly, to drug trafficking.
     Underscoring the problem, the Colombian prosecutor general's
office yesterday announced that Gen. Fernando Millan, commander
of the 5th Brigade, is under investigation for recent
collaboration with paramilitary forces in Santander, a province
in central Colombia. The office also announced that Gen. Rito
Alejo Del Rio is under preliminary investigation for suspected
collaboration with such groups when he was commander of the 17th
Brigade in the northwestern region of Uraba, where paramilitary
forces in recent years have used selective killings to rid the
area of suspected guerrilla sympathizers.
     When word leaked to the Colombian press in May that
Ramirez's U.S. visa had been revoked, his response was angry and
     "All I have done for the 36 years of my career is fight
terrorists," Ramirez, the army's inspector general, told a news
conference on May 15. "So it is impossible that, at the end of my
career, I am suddenly turned into the terrorist. It is not true.
People know how I have acted, my actions have been clear and my
conscience is clear."
     In numerous telephone calls to his office, reporters were
told he would be unavailable to answer any further questions.
     Paramilitary groups, often operating under the protection of
the military, were responsible for 70 percent of the political
murders in Colombia in 1997, according to the State Department's
annual human rights report. Intelligence sources in Colombia and
the United States say paramilitary groups are now operating large
cocaine laboratories in Casanare and Meta provinces in central
     How to break the ties between the paramilitary groups and
the military, which often supplies them weapons and protection,
is a top priority for the United States in dealing with the
Pastrana government.
     "We view the paramilitaries as a serious problem, they are a
real factor," said one U.S. official. "Dealing with the military-
paramilitary tie is where Pastrana will have to start. It is an
aspect of the problem he can and must deal with, and we think he
     Ties between senior military officials and paramilitary
groups, which control at least 15 percent of the national
territory, date to the 1960s, when the military helped form the
units to aid the army in combating the guerrillas. The groups
were outlawed in the 1980s following a series of massacres and
after they had become increasingly reliant on drug barons.
     "Far from being punished, the junior and mid-level officers
who tolerated, planned, directed and even took part in
paramilitary violence in Colombia in the 1980s have been promoted
and rewarded and now occupy the highest positions in the
Colombian military," said a 1997 Human Rights Watch/Americas
report on paramilitary activities."
     Ramirez was one of those officers who rose through the
     Ramirez received intelligence training in Washington in
1983, according to his service record. From 1986 to 1988 he was
commander of the 20th Brigade, an intelligence unit that was
disbanded in May because of overwhelming evidence the group had
carried out scores of assassinations and "disappearances" in the
1980s and 1990s.
     In 1991, seeking to beef up the Colombian military's
capabilities, the United States sent an intelligence assessment
team to help redesign the military's intelligence structure. The
following year, when the military began implementing the U.S.
recommendations, Ramirez was named the first commander of
military intelligence.
     The appointment came at a key time, when drug baron Pablo
Escobar had escaped from prison, and U.S. and Colombian police
and military were making his recapture or elimination their
highest priority. Because of his position, U.S. officials said,
it was natural for the CIA to deal with Ramirez, despite strong
intelligence linking him to death-squad activities.
     "It was known he was a bad guy, but who else were we going
to deal with?" said a U.S. official with direct knowledge of
Ramirez's case.
     According to U.S. and Colombian officials, Ramirez already
had established a close relationship to Carlos Castano, leader of
Colombia's largest paramilitary organization known as the United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. Castano has been identified by
the Drug Enforcement Administration as "major" drug trafficker,
and human rights organizations identify the group as one of the
most violent in the nation.
     In 1992, Castano, with financing from the Cali cocaine
cartel, Escobar's main business rival, attacked Escobar and his
family's properties and passed on intelligence to the police and
     One of the main conduits to pass the information to the
military, according to Colombian and U.S. sources, was Ramirez.
Escobar was killed by police in December 1993.
     By 1994, U.S. and Colombian officials said, the CIA had cut
back its dealings with Ramirez because of human rights concerns.
In 1995, they said, the relationship ended.
     U.S. officials, including Barry R. McCaffrey, the Clinton
administration's anti-drug policy chief, in private meetings
earlier this year warned the military high command that Ramirez
and several other generals would have to be removed if American
support for the military was to go forward.
     Farah reported from Washington; Brooks from Bogota.
     Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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